Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 2 Fulham 1 - Lilywhites bring back that winning feeling at Deepdale
After the turmoil and angst of four successive defeats, an air of joy and calm settled on Deepdale as Preston North End ran out winners against Fulham.
The Cottagers’ visit had a daunting look about it, based on North End’s recent form and injury pile-up.
Would four losses turn into five on the bounce for the first time since the 2002/2003 campaign?
PNE’s faithful need not have worried, their side turning in a strong display in a game which was 10 v 10 for more than half of it due to a red card apiece.
Sean Maguire scored his first goal since September, David Nugent then netted in a Preston shirt for the first time since April 2007.
A goal drought for Nugent it wasn’t, he’d been 12 years away in between.
With him getting off the mark in his second coming, the spotlight shone largely on Nugent post-match.
It was a goal supporters had been willing him to score since his summer return and it was probably celebrated with more gusto than any other this season.
Others rose to the occasion though, not just Nugent. In fact it was a very strong team performance.
Centre-half pair Patrick Bauer and Paul Huntington were so solid in their first competitive start together.
They headed everything, including in Bauer’s case Denis Odoi’s shoulder which caught him smack in the face and saw the Fulham man sent-off.
Odoi’s red came before the half-hour mark and the contest had not reached the interval when Joe Rafferty got his marching orders.
It wasn’t a case of referee Keith Stroud looking to even it up, he had little choice but to dismiss Rafferty for a lunge at Joe Bryan. Had Mr Stroud seen Ben Pearson’s challenge on Josh Onomah from a different angle, the midfielder would have joined Odoi and Rafferty in an early finish.
During the losing streak, PNE boss Alex Neil argued that injuries had hurt his side.
Indeed they did and it was no coincidence that when he able to put more round pegs in round holes, a victory came.
Bauer’s return after two games out was significant and while there was no Ben Davies alongside him, he had the company of Huntington.
This was Andrew Hughes’ second game back and he looked sharper than on his comeback at QPR.
Although Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson were still missing from the midfield, Alan Browne and Brad Potts did well in the middle.
Browne had to vacate that role to drop in at right-back after Rafferty had gone, before resuming it later on.
Potts was much better than he’d been in the previous two games.
He played a big part in the build-up to Nugent’s goal and generally looked a lot more confident on the ball.
Voluntary changes made by Alex Neil in the front line were a big influence.
Nugent led the attack well and with him being up there rather than the more powerful Jayden Stockley, PNE resisted playing the direct ball and built play instead.
Billy Bodin gave them some craft on the right, Neil choosing him over the pace of Tom Barkhuizen.
Maguire held on to his place on the left and Neil’s faith in him paid off in the 23rd minute.
Bodin’s corner from the left bounced off Browne and across the six-yard box.
At the far post Maguire turned on to his right foot and shot low into the net.
Odoi saw red five minutes later for clattering shoulder first into Bauer’s face on the edge of the PNE box.
It was 11 v 10 only until the 45th minute when Rafferty needlessly went in high on Bryan on the half-way line.
Nugent’s big moment came in the 52nd minute, PNE counter-attacking well. Maguire came down the left and fed Potts inside.
Potts found Bodin and carried on his run to meet Bodin’s pass into the box. His shot struck keeper Marek Rodak on the foot and looped to the far post when Nugent nodded down and poked a shot over the line from close range.
Fulham’s goal in the 82nd predicatively came from Aleksandar Mitrovic, his shot from the edge of the box deflecting in off Pearson.
That was the Serbian's seventh goal against Preston in five games and a stoppage-time header which was deflected over the bar wasn't far away from being an eighth.
It would have been a travesty had that denied North End victory but thankfully they defended the corner which resulted - keeper Rodak coming up for the flag kick - and the final whistle sounded soon after.